Apply that theory to thrillers and "Cold Creek Manor" is a dead shark. Directed, for some reason, by the otherwise adventurous Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas"), the film is a slog for almost its entire running time. The script, by Richard Jefferies, brings absolutely nothing new to the thriller table. Its flat trajectory and inability to produce even a mildly interesting scare, surprise, twist, MacGuffin or red herring is baffling. What saves the film from being completely forgettable are a couple of tense scenes and the performances: Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone are natural and unmannered in the domestic scenes, even if they can't escape thriller-acting clichés later on.
Cooper Tilson (Quaid) is a documentary filmmaker living a typically frenzied Manhattan existence with his executive wife Leah (Stone) and their two children. When the younger child is almost hit by a car, Cooper decides to uproot the family and move into Cold Creek Manor, a repossessed mansion somewhere in New York State. Figgis is slow and stately in his initial approach, which is welcome at first. But what is assumed to be a screw-tightening buildup is actually the only song this bird can sing.
The Tilsons' new home needs plenty of fixing and Cooper has plenty of time. He even begins rummaging through the mountains of leftover boxes to piece together the history of the manor. Offering to help renovate is Dale Massie (a relentlessly bare-chested Stephen Dorff), who owned the place before it was repossessed from under him.
When we first meet Dale, he is creepy but noticeably polite, which momentarily keeps the viewer off balance. However, as we start to doubt him, the story does nothing to play with our expectations. Once established as the bad guy, the extent of his evil and the reason for his evil become the overriding issues. However, the answers to each are not new or interesting to even the youngest and most inattentive B-movie fan.
The thrills, such as they are, begin in earnest when each Tilson family member awakens to find a snake in their bed. It's the lamest thriller sequence in recent years, as the family risks cardiac arrest in a frantic attempt to avoid a couple of snakes. Even Figgis' obnoxious piano-pounding score can't convince us to be scared.
Cooper blames Dale for the snake attack, which leads to the only effective scene in the movie: a confrontation between the two in the neighborhood bar. As Cooper continues his investigation, Dale's history and the history of Cold Creek Manor begin to converge, which ultimately and thankfully leads to the end of the film.
Rounding out the cast are Christopher Plummer as Dale's father and Juliette Lewis as Dale's girlfriend. Quaid and Stone's watchability help the viewer through an increasingly laborious experience. Dorff is better in earlier scenes, when his motives are in question. As for Lewis, it's nice to see this talented actress emerge from a brief career lull, even in a film like this. In an era when any kid can pick up a digital camera and make "The Blair Witch Project," the flavorless Cold Creek Manor isn't old school. It's just old. Starring Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff and Juliette Lewis. Directed by Mike Figgis. Written by Richard Jefferies. Produced by Annie Stewart and Mike Figgis. A Buena Vista release. Thriller. Rated R for violence, language and sexuality. Running time: 119 min